UFU meet Agriculture Minister on beef

Thursday, 31 July, 2014

This week, Ulster Farmers’ Union president Ian Marshall headed a delegation of UFU representatives at a meeting with NI Agriculture Minister Michelle O’Neill to discuss the current difficulties facing the beef industry.

Ian Marshall said; “We had requested this meeting with the Agriculture Minister some time ago to discuss a number of issues in more detail. Overall, it was a broad, all encompassing meeting and we covered a lot of ground. There are a number of challenges facing the beef industry at the moment, not least the collapse in the farm gate price over the last number of months. My impression is that Minister O’Neill recognises that there are serious concerns about the way in which some processors manage retailer specifications and that due consideration must be given to any proposals which can improve this in the future. Similar calls were made at the UK Beef Summit which the UFU attended in early July. We also raised the issue of disclosure in relation to the number of residencies an animal has at point of sale and that this information must be made available to ensure that farmers, who are both buyers and sellers, are not disadvantaged in the market place. Undoubtedly there is a need to move forward discussions around all these matters as it is creating a significant distraction from farm profitability, which is the primary concern.

“In terms of the nomad cattle issue, the Minister and I both agreed that the trade of cattle across this island has been an important feature of the sector for many years and as such, all options should be considered which can improve trade activities both domestically and abroad.  We cannot however hide the fact that there are complex EU labelling laws which have affected this historic trade in recent times and that there is no easy solution.  Above all, the interests of all producers in Northern Ireland must be taken into consideration to ensure the protection of the Red Tractor premium market.  While the Red Tractor market is currently not delivering anywhere near what is required for beef producers, it is still someway ahead of other European markets and no actions should be taken by any of the Government’s on this island which would further damage the sector in the North.”

Ian Marshall continued; “The Union has continued to push for a beef scheme similar to those available in Scotland and ROI to be included in the next NI Rural Development Programme to target funding towards farmers who wish to continue improving performance in their herd and we were pleased that the Minister is still receptive to these ideas.

“Following my recent visit to China, I was also keen to impress that the Minister should be continuing to do all she can to increase the number of export opportunities for food companies in Northern Ireland.  Adding value to Northern Ireland produce by finding new markets is crucial if this sector is to move forward and support is required for our local food companies to ensure that NI produce is reaching the most valuable global markets.”

Commenting on research and advisory services Ian Marshall added; “There is some excellent work being done by both AFBI and CAFRE to help the red meat sector, however it is vital that a sufficient level of resources are put in place to protect these important facilities.  We are aware that there are budget constraints within the NI Executive, however it is essential that we do not see cuts imposed on facilities which form a crucial role in supporting the agri-sector.

“Overall, I think this was a very worthwhile meeting.  I believe that the Minister fully recognises that profitability in the red meat sector must be of primary concern at this present time and I am keen to work with her to find solutions to challenging industry issues.”